Homemade Mayonnaise

Homemade mayonnaise is rich, creamy, and tangy in a way stuff from the jar can’t duplicate. Whipping up your own mayo also is a use of leftover egg yolks from making meringues and other egg-white-based recipes (like our Chocolate Angel Food Cake); the fresher the eggs, the silkier, tastier and more golden your mayonnaise will be. I enjoy the satisfaction of whipping the egg yolks by hand, but you could use a blender, food processor or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (a good idea if you decide to double or triple this recipe). The amount of oil you’ll use depends on the size of the yolks and how thick you like your mayonnaise; for a stiff sauce, use more oil. This homemade mayonnaise is great spread on a sandwich, as well as in other recipes, like Bestest Buttermilk-Chive Dressing. I also love this homemade mayonnaise recipe as a dipper for roasted baby potatoes or sauteed shrimp. To make aioli, substitute extra-virgin olive oil for canola, and add a clove or two of garlic that’s been mashed to a paste.


Aphrodisiac Foods: Folklore or Fact?

by Cheryl Sternman Rule

Imagine if it were really true. If we could go to the grocery store and fill our carts with edibles that would turn us into sexual dynamos. If a certain vegetable made our libidos soar, or a fruit intensified bedroom pleasure, or a meat or fish or beverage so transformed us that passersby would inch a little closer.

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that throughout history, folkloric traditions have promoted certain foods as aphrodisiacs. These foods, named for the Greek goddess Aphrodite, are believed not only to enhance sexual pleasure, but to bring us closer to the divine, make us more fertile, and hold forth the promise of immortality. The bad news, of course, is that the scientific proof surrounding these claims is somewhat specious — particularly those that relate to, well, immortality.

If you’re a skeptic, that’s okay – but let’s take a look at some common foods and assess their aphrodisiacal impact from both a folkloric and scientific perspective.

ancho-cinnamonOysters.  Perhaps the most commonly touted aphrodisiac, these bivalves are said to resemble the female, um … parts, and thus by their very contour are believed to incite passionate fervor. Nutritionally, they boast a high zinc content, and this essential mineral has been shown to increase blood flow and to play a role in male fertility.

Chiles and spices.  Spices have long been associated with the exotic, and with the titillating fear of the unknown. Ancient Romans and medieval Europeans, who favored imported spices especially, believed them to awaken sexual interest and arousal. From a scientific viewpoint, hot chiles do contain capsaicin (concentrated in their white, pithy veins), which causes lips to swell and sting, blood flow to increase, and heart rates to quicken. These symptoms simulate – what else? – sexual arousal. Some dried spices (like cinnamon and cloves, for example) are rich in antioxidants, and thus good for overall health, while roots like ginger are touted both for their healthful and aphrodisiac properties.

Milk and honey.  According to Miriam Hospodar in her article on Aphrodisiac Foods in the the 2004 issue of the journal Gastronomica, “Milk and dairy products were lauded for their aphrodisiac, rejuvenating, and life-extending properties. All but one of Kama Sutra’s aphrodisiac recipes contain sugar, milk, honey, or clarified butter…”  Scientifically, of course, milk is an excellent source of calcium, and at only 90 calories per cup, it’s an excellent overall energy booster. Drinking it cold (and spiked with chile!) will prevent it from having that somnolent effect that warm milk can have.  The last thing you want on Valentine’s Day is to be, ahem, drowsy. As for honey, sweet foods are often offered as tokens of love and affection. Candies, cookies, chocolates, little cakes — there’s a reason we give these items to our sweethearts this time of year rather than, say, salads or sausages, and honey is no exception. Hospodar says that there are numerous references to honey being “a divine substance that came from heaven.” Valentine’s manna, perhaps?

Nuts and seeds.  Hospodar writes of an Islamic sex manual called The Perfumed Garden which promotes a diet of almonds and pine nuts “chased by a glassful of thick honey for three consecutive days.” The concoction, it was believed, would increase sexual stamina for married men. Because pine nuts, almonds, sesame seeds, and other zinc-rich foods are also high in protein and beneficial fatty acids, they do in fact contribute to overall wellness and heart health, in particular . . . increasing, by extension, overall vitality.

Chocolate. Despite its ubiquity this month and presence on Valentine’s Day gift lists, chocolate gets mixed reviews for its ability to stimulate love and desire. On the one hand, cacao, a sacred Aztec food, was believed to inspire eroticism; on the other, it was condemned for inflaming passions irresponsibly. Chocolate does contain feel-good chemicals like serotonin, which can create a rush of pleasure, so there may be some chemical explanation, however tenuous, for its hallowed place in aphrodisiac folklore.

Will these foods make you feel good about yourself? Perhaps; because foods that promote good health and sound nutrition provide the keys to overall wellbeing. Will they actually heighten libidinous desires? That’s still open for debate. For now . . . you can experiment on your sweetie with my Spicy Valentine’s Love Potion.  Check back and let us know how things go.


Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.

Spicy Valentine’s Day Love Potion

Drawing from folklore, nutrition, and the laws of good taste, this invigorating beverage contains calcium-rich milk, zinc-rich pine nuts, and antioxidant-rich spices. A bit of honey lends sweetness. Will it help your love life? Who knows, but it’s a delicious and potent energy-booster nonetheless.

love-potion-recipe2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cups very cold skim milk
2-1/2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/8 teaspoon chipotle chile pepper, or more for an added kick

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts for 3 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan frequently and stirring with a heatproof spatula. Transfer to a plate to cool completely.

Combine nuts and remaining ingredients in a blender. (Use an immersion blender if you have one.) Divide between two glasses, and serve.

Serves 2

Heavenly Desserts: Indulgences That are Light by Nature

By Alison Ashton

Lately, I’ve preached the benefits of indulgences. I believe that if you eat what you really want, you’re less likely to overdo it in the long run. For me, that means saving room for dessert. Most of the time, however, all I really want is a little something to end a meal on a sweet grace note–a treat to enjoy, not make me groan, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

heavenly-dessertsThat point came home for me during the recent holiday season, when I offered to bring dessert for dinner at our friends’ house. I spent all day making a rich chocolate torte. With chocolate ganache. And pumpkinseed brittle. And cranberry coulis to brighten up the plate. It was delicious, but after our wonderful supper of heritage turkey and all the fixings, it was the last thing I wanted.

Instead, I craved something simple and light–a refreshing citrus sorbet, perhaps, or a selection of cookies to nibble with after-dinner coffee.

The best light desserts are those that aren’t too heavy to begin with; many of which are simple affairs. I’m a big fan of icy, refreshing sorbets or granitas, especially when they spotlight seasonal fruit. Fruit compote served over low-fat Greek yogurt is creamy and satisfying, and simple savory-sweet concoctions like Chocolate Crostini with Orange Zest and Sea Salt deliver big flavor in petite packages.

All Whipped Up

The main tool in the light baking arsenal is meringue, which is nothing more than egg whites beaten with sugar. There are three types of meringues, which you can use in any number of ways:

  • French: egg whites and sugar beaten as stiff as you like (anywhere from soft to stiff peaks). Because the eggs are raw, a French meringue must be cooked. If you beat a French meringue to stiff peaks, you can bake it into crunchy little cookies or into larger circles to use as a base for fruit-topped Pavlovas.
  • Italian: egg whites beaten with hot sugar syrup to a creamy consistency. The hot syrup raises the temperature of the egg whites to a level that’s safe to consume without further cooking. An Italian meringue is stable enough to use as a naturally low-fat cake frosting.
  • Swiss: egg whites and sugar are heated in a double-boiler. This also brings the egg whites up to a safe temperature so the meringue requires no further cooking. Like an Italian meringue, this is a stable mixture that can be used to frost cakes, decorate tarts, and pies.

Angel food cake is a classic foam cake that is leavened by a French meringue for a heavenly light texture (most likely the source of its celestial name). Some food historians credit the Pennsylvania Dutch with the angel food cake’s creation, as a way to use leftover egg whites. Others believe it was perfected by African-American slaves, since beating the egg whites would have been a laborious chore before the invention of the electric mixer. Both stories sound plausible to me, but either way this old-time dessert is perfect for modern meals.

alison-thumbA longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health as well as on her blog, Eat Cheap, Eat Well, Eat Up.

Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Macerated Strawberries

Use room-temperature eggs, which will be easy to separate and beat to their full volume. (Hang onto the yolks to make Homemade Mayonnaise or Sweet Potato-Kale Bread Pudding.) Angel food cakes are made in an ungreased tube pan, which provides maximum surface area and traction for the cake to climb. The cake is cooled upside-down so it doesn’t lose volume as it cools. Some tube pans have little feet to hold the pan up off the counter while the cake cools. If yours doesn’t, simply invert the pan on the neck of a wine bottle or other bottle that fits into the hole of the tube pan.


1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
2/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder
12 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract


1 pound strawberries, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Remaining ingredients

2 tablespoons slivered toasted almonds
Whipped cream (optional)
Fresh mint sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.

To prepare cake, sift together 3/4 cup sugar, flour, and cocoa powder in a medium bowl.

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Add salt, vanilla, and almond extract; beat until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle one-third of flour mixture over beaten egg whites; gently fold flour mixture into egg whites. Repeat with remaining flour mixture.

Scrape batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Gently swirl a knife through the batter to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until cake springs back when touched. Invert pan (either on its “feet” or on the neck of a wine bottle) and cool completely. Run a knife around edges to loosen cake. Gently pull cake out of pan and slice with a serrated knife.

While cake cools, prepare strawberries. Combine strawberries, 2 tablespoons sugar, liqueur, and juice in a medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Serve with cake; sprinkle with almonds. Garnish with whipped cream and mint, if desired.

Serves 12

Blood Orange Granita

A granita is a light, simple, refreshing iced treat that doesn’t require an ice cream maker. Stirring the mixture periodically as it freezes gives the granita its characteristic fluffy, granular texture. Blood oranges are in season right now; they have a wonderful ruby flesh and pleasant sweet-tart juice. You can substitute regular fresh orange juice or tangerine juice. This three-ingredient dessert has an added benefit: One serving provides more than 100 percent of your vitamin C needs for the day.

blood-orange-granita-recipe2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups fresh blood orange juice (about 12 blood oranges)

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Stir in juice. Pour mixture into an 8-inch square dish. Freeze 4 hours or until frozen, stirring with a fork every 30 minutes. Scrape surface of granita with a fork before serving.

Serves 8

By Alison Ashton

Seasonal Salads: Winter

I realized something funny recently. Long after I started branching out into seasonal fruits and vegetables, my salads remained stuck in the rut of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions. Sure, the lettuce had morphed into “mesclun mix” and the tomatoes had turned into heirlooms, but it took some time before my insistence upon seasonal produce progressed into my salad bowl.

seasonal-salads-winter-postIt hit me that when I defaulted to my comfort zone in colder months the cost was a triple whammy: the taste wasn’t that inspiring (virtually none of the ingredients were in season, which means that they were being shipped from afar and likely of a variety that was bred more for durability than for taste), it took a heavy toll on the environment (with the miles those ingredients traveled, I could rack up a free airline ticket) and it was expensive (have you ever noticed how expensive cucumbers are outside of summer?).

When I finally started to toss together more seasonal options, my world opened up . . . as it tends to do when you “limit” yourself to what’s available locally or what’s in your CSA box. Here’s a list of ingredients to inspire you while the weather is still chilly, along with an example that’s become a winter staple on our table. Try a few mix and matches, throw in a crumble of cheese or toasted nuts, and play around with different dressings. Most of all, enjoy!

Winter Salad Ingredients

  • Bitter greens like escarole, frisée (a type of escarole), radicchio, etc.
  • Fennel
  • Celery (if you can find locally grown celery—or grow your own—do . . . you’ll be amazed by how flavorful and fresh it is)
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Citrus (like blood oranges or grapefruit)
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Roasted squash and root vegetables

Fennel and Granny Smith Salad with Blue Cheese

A mandolin makes easy work of this salad. Use the flat blade to slice the fennel and onion as thinly as possible, and the julienne blade to cut the apples; or slice the apple and then cut lengthwise into long planks. I like to use Point Reyes Blue Cheese, which is a farmstead cheese made locally in Marin County.

fennel-granny-smith-apple-salad-recipe ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 pound bitter greens, such as escarole, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
2 fennel bulbs, sliced as thinly as possible
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium Granny Smith apples, halved, cored and cut into matchsticks (or cut into slices 1/8-inch thick and then cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch planks)
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Shake together oil, vinegar, honey, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper in a tight-sealing jar.

Toss together greens, fennel, onion and apples. Drizzle dressing over top and toss well. Divide mixture among 4 plates. Scatter pine nuts and blue cheese over top.

Serves 4